This Menu requires Adobe Flash Player

Simone Dalla Bella
Magdalena Berkowska
Anita Białuńska
Jakub Sowiński (lab manager)
Anna Gruber
Beata Ułas
Dorota Cieślik
Ilona Laskowska
Wersja polska
Music Performance & Brain Lab - Research

Main research topics:

Sensorimotor synchronization

Music compels us to move. When we listen to music, we often move in synchrony with its beat by spontaneous or deliberate foot tapping or rhythmic body swaying (Repp, 2006). Humans are unique in their ability to synchronize with an external timekeeper (McDermott & Hauser, 2005; Patel, 2006). Synchronization with music is a universal activity (Nettl, 2000) thought to favour social cohesion (Wallin, Merker, & Brown, 2000), thus enabling social behaviors very distinctive of our species. Therefore, synchronization with music is likely deeply rooted in biology (Mithen, 2006).

Synchronization accuracy is typically assessed by asking participants to tap their finger in synchrony with auditory stimuli, such as a sequence of tones equally spaced in time or a musical excerpt (tapping task).

Which mechanisms are responsible for synchronization with auditory stimuli?
What are the neuronal underpinnings of sensorimotor synchronization?

Current projects in MPB Lab concern:
  • Movement attraction to musical and nonmusical (speech) stimuli

    • Białuńska, A., & Dalla Bella, S. (submitted). Captured by music, less by speech.
    • Dalla Bella, S., Białuńska, A., & Sowiński, J. (2006). Captured by music, less by speech. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. 235.
  • Sensorimotor synchronization with musical and nonmusical stimuli in Parkinson’s disease
    • Laskowska, I., Dalla Bella, S., Rolinska, P., Binek, M., Stachowiak, A., & Gorzelańczyk, E. J. (2006). Sensory-motor synchronization with musical and non-musical stimuli in patients with Parkinson’s disase. Poster, "Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society", San Francisco (USA), April 8-11.
  • Sensorimotor synchronization in congenital amusia (in collaboration with Isabelle Peretz)
    • Dalla Bella, S. & Peretz, I. (2003). Congenital amusia interferes with the ability to synchronize with music. Annals of the New York Academy of   Sciences, 999, 166-169.


McDermott, J., & Hauser, M.D. (2005). The origins of music: Innateness, uniqueness, and evolution. Music Perception, 23(1), 29-59.

Mithen, S. (2006). The singing Neanderthals. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Nettl, B. (2000). An ethnomusicologist contemplates universals in musical sound and musical culture. In N.L. Wallin, B. Merker, & S. Brown (Eds.), The origins of music (pp. 463–472). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Patel, A.D. (2006). Musical rhythm, linguistic rhythm, and human evolution. Music Perception, 24, 99-104.

Repp, B.H. (2005). Sensorimotor synchronization: A review of the tapping literature. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 12(6), 969-92.

Wallin, N.L., Merker, B., & Brown, S. (Eds.). The origins of music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Singing is a universal form of vocal expression. The impulse to sing emerges very early during development. Infants exhibit precocious singing abilities. The first songs are produced at around one year of age and at 18 months, children start to generate recognizable songs (e.g. Ostwald, 1973). Adults’ sung performance is remarkably consistent both within (e.g. Bergeson & Trehub, 2002) and across individuals (Levitin, 1994; Levitin & Cook, 1996) when considering starting pitch and tempo. In addition recent studies reveal that sung performance in most occasional singers is accurate both in the pitch dimension and in the time dimension (Dalla Bella, Giguere, & Peretz, 2007). Thus, singing appears quite natural for the majority of humans.

However, there are a few exceptions. From 4 to 10 % of the adult population is unable to carry a tune. These individuals, commonly called “tone deaf”, suffer from a lifelong difficulty in processing music despite normal intellectual, memory and language skills (Peretz, 2001). A typically complain of tone deaf individuals is that they sing out of tune (e.g. Sloboda, Wise, & Peretz, 2005). Nevertheless, the majority of prior studies on tone-deafness have assessed perception (e.g., Foxton et al., 2004; Hyde & Peretz, 2004). Little is known about the nature of the singing difficulties of tone-deaf individuals. However, we recently provided evidence that poor singing mostly affects the pitch dimension rather than the time dimension; in addition poor singing can coexist with unperturbed perceptual abilities (Dalla Bella, Gigu
ère, & Peretz, 2007).

How proficient is singing in the general population?
Which functional and brain mechanisms support singing abilities? Which of these mechanisms are not functional in tone deafness?

Current projects in MPB Lab concern: 
  • Singing abilities in the general population (preparation of the Sung Performance Battery, including a series of tasks spanning from single pitch-matching tasks to singing from memory of familiar melodies)
    • Dalla Bella, S., Giguère, J-F., & Peretz, I. (2007). Singing proficiency in the general population. Journal of The Acoustical Society of America, 121, 1182-1189.
      audio  audio Nature, Vol 445, Feb 22 2007

  • Singing abilities in congenital amusia and aphasia (in collaboration with Isabelle Peretz and Jean-Francois Giguere).
    • Giguère, J-F., Dalla Bella, S., & Peretz, I. (2005). Singing abilities in congenital amusia. Poster, "Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society", New York (USA), April 10-12.
  • Singing abilities in purely vocal tone-deafness


Bergeson, T.R., & Trehub, S.E. (2002). Absolute pitch and tempo in mothers’ songs to infants. Psychological Science, 13(1), 72-75.

Dalla Bella, S., Gigu
ère, J-F, & Peretz, I. (2007 – in press). Singing proficiency in the general population. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Foxton, J.M., Dean, J.L., Gee, R., Peretz, I., & Griffiths, T.D. (2004). Characterization of deficits in pitch perception underlying ‘tone deafness’. Brain, 127, 801-810.

Hyde, K., & Peretz, I. (2004). Brain that are out of tune but in time. Psychological Science, 15(5), 356-360.

Levitin, D.J. (1994). Absolute memory for musical pitch: Evidence from the production of learned melodies. Perception & Psychophysics, 56, 414-423.

Levitin, D.J., & Cook, P.R. (1996). Memory for musical tempo: Additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 927-935.

Ostwald, P. F. (1973). Musical behavior in early childhood. Developmental  Medicine and Child Neurology, 15, 367-375.

Peretz, I. (2001). Brain specialization for music: New evidence from Congenital Amusia. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 930, 189-192.

Sloboda, J.A., Wise, K.J., & Peretz, I., (2005). Quantifying tone deafness in the general population. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060, 255-261.

Movement dynamics in music performance

Most of us are appreciative of outstanding performances of famous musicians. Still, what characterizes each performer’s art is not well-understood. Music as well as speech, among the fastest sound sequences produced by humans (Palmer, 1997), arise from fine movements that display coarticulation effects (e.g. Hardcastle & Hewlett, 1999): the production of each tone is affected by its specific sequence context. Coarticulation effects are visible in anticipatory motion.

Evidence is scant as to whether musicians’ movements are unique to individuals or largely determined by common coarticulation constraints. However, in normal circumstances, we do not confuse the actions we produce with the actions produced by others. Accordingly, activity within the motor control areas can distinguish one’s own actions from the actions of others (e.g. Grèzes, Frith, & Passingham, 2004; Jackson & Decety, 2004). This suggests that musicians own movements may possess specific properties allowing us to distinguish a performer from others. In particular, dynamic properties of goal-directed movement (velocity and acceleration) appear as good candidates for information unique to personal identity.

Recently we provided evidence that pianists’ finger movements during striking and releasing piano keys contain dynamic identifiers (in terms of velocity and acceleration) unique to performers and fingers (Dalla Bella & Palmer, 2006). These identifiers are separate from coarticulatory influences on motion.

What are the dynamic properties of goal-directed movement in music performance?
Which dynamical properties of movement convey personal identity in music performance? Are these properties marking personal identity in other kinds of goal-directed movement?

Current projects in MPB Lab concern:
  • Dynamical identifiers in goal-directed movement in piano performance using Motion Capture techniques (in collaboration with Caroline Palmer)
    • Dalla Bella, S., & Palmer, C. (2006). Personal identifiers in musicians’ finger movement dynamics. Poster, "Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society", San Francisco (USA), April 8-11.


Dalla Bella, S., & Palmer, C. (2006). Personal identifiers in musicians’ finger movement dynamics. Supplement of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 239.

Grèzes, J., Frith, C.D., & Passingham, R.E. (2004). Inferring false beliefs from the action of oneself and others: an fMRI study. Neuroimage, 21(2), 744-750.

Hardcastle, W.J., & Hewlett, N. (1999). Coarticulation: Theory, data and techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, P.L., & Decety, J. (2004). Motor cognition: a new paradigm to study self-other recognition. Current  Opinions in Neurobiology, 14(2), 259-263.

Palmer, C. (1997). Music performance. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 115-138.

Last updated: 08.10.2007